Inside the CIA’s secret Palestine partition analysis

A recently declassified document drawn up in 1947 highlights how US intelligence predicted war and Israel’s ongoing need for support while worrying about its impact on American interests in the region

Al Majalla

Inside the CIA’s secret Palestine partition analysis

Following World War II, the General Assembly of the United Nations prepared to partition Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state as per the recommendation of a special committee it had set up. It was a defining moment. The UN was a new and important international forum, and it was tackling one of the thorniest issues in international relations: how to accommodate both Jews and Palestinians in the same land.

Ahead of the key partition vote, the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) prepared a document on the possible repercussions of partition, including the potential for Arab-Israeli conflict. That document has only recently been declassified.

Here, Al Majalla publishes the concerns of US intelligence officials and diplomats, including the most prescient and compelling points from this historic, top-secret, and fascinating report.

Predicting war

The authors knew the importance of US support and felt the Jews would not last more than two years “without external assistance, both human and material.” They were mindful of the impact of partition on US influence and relations in the region, so they knew how sensitive this all was to national security. The first page, therefore, explicitly prohibits its transfer or disclosure in any form to unauthorised individuals.

For instance, it shows that Washington knew there would be war if a Jewish state were established. “Arabs in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, along with Palestinians, driven by nationalism and religious fervour, are determined to resist any force or coalition attempting to establish a Jewish state in Palestine,” it reads.

“While it is not expected that Arab governments will officially declare war, they will not try to prevent their people (especially zealous tribes) from joining the battle and may even encourage such actions and provide secret assistance, as well.”

The CIA knew about regional military capabilities, writing that “in terms of organisation, Arab forces will vary between well-organised quasi-military units and less organised tribal formations, predominantly engaging actively against the Jews at any given time between 100,000 and 200,000 individuals.”

Palestinian fighters beside a burned-out Israeli Haganah supply truck near Jerusalem, Arab-Israeli War, 1948.

However, there was a strong will on both sides. “The Zionists... are determined to have a state in Palestine, or according to extremist elements, in Palestine and East Jordan together,” the CIA document reads.

“The Jews will be able to recruit around 200,000 fighters in Palestine, in addition to being somewhat supplemented by volunteers and conscripts from abroad. The Jewish armed groups in Palestine are distinguished by their good equipment and their good training in special forces tactics.”

However, beyond the short-term, the intelligence analysts did not see sustainability. “Without significant external assistance in terms of manpower and resources, they will struggle to endure for more than two years.”

Concern for US policy

They also worried that “the United States, by supporting the partition plan, has lost much of its authority in the Middle East”. Moreover, if partition were imposed on Palestine, “the resulting conflict will seriously undermine the social, economic, and political stability of the Arab world, and our commercial and strategic interests will be in grave danger,” they said.

“Poverty, unrest, and despair—which communist propaganda thrives on—will increase throughout the Arab world, and Soviet agents (some of whom have already been smuggled into Palestine as Jewish refugees) will spread to other Arab countries and attempt to organise so-called democratic movements like those in Greece.”

The authors also felt that the US could get caught up unwittingly because if the UN recommended partition, “it will be morally obliged to take steps to enforce that same plan, with the major powers acting as instruments of implementation”. They added: “There is no need for us to point out the potential danger of such a development on US-Arab and US-Soviet relations.”

Below are more detailed excerpts from the document as it was originally written.


On September 1, 1947, the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) concluded its report, with the majority of its members recommending partition as the best solution to the Palestine issue.

Despite vehement opposition from Arab states and the possibility of the partition resolution not obtaining the required two-thirds majority in the United Nations General Assembly, there is no doubt that this kind of solution to the Palestine problem has been studied more seriously and has received more widespread acceptance than any other solution.

Should the United Nations General Assembly – which is currently discussing the partition proposal – accept the partition of Palestine by a two-thirds majority, the following situation would ensue:

1. A sovereign Jewish state would be established, encompassing a large part of Palestinian territory

2. A significant number of immigrants would be allowed to enter this Jewish state.

3. Arabs, not only in Palestine but throughout the entire Middle East, would strongly oppose both 1) and 2) above, and armed conflicts would erupt between Jews and Arabs.

4. Assistance in the form of manpower, weapons, and supplies would be available to both Jews and Arabs from outside Palestine.

5. The United Nations would not immediately put together an international police force to maintain peace in Palestine.

Based on these assumptions, three questions must be addressed:

1. How will the Arab-Israeli conflict develop, and what would the resulting consequences be?

2. How will the stability of the Middle East be affected?

3. How will American strategic and commercial interests be impacted?

To answer these questions, it is necessary to examine the political situation resulting from partition and the military developments that may arise from this situation.

Supporting the partition plan will seriously undermine the social, economic, and political stability of the Arab world.

Excerpt from CIA report on Palestine partition plan

Internal Pressures on Arab Governments

Nationalistic pressure

Arab nationalism is the most potent political force in the Arab world. The independence of all Arab states in the Middle East greatly highlights the continued mandate in Palestine. Due to the strong bonds among various Arab states, political developments in any country are of vital importance to Arabs everywhere.

Consequently, the independence of Palestine is not only the primary goal for Palestinian Arabs but also for Syrians, Lebanese, Iraqis, Jordanians, Egyptians, and Saudis. Ignoring this situation by any Arab government would count as political suicide.

The signing of the Charter of the Arab League in March 1945 was a triumph for Arab nationalists as it hastened the day when they could form their own bloc vis-à-vis other major powers in the world.

Despite the disagreement between the Arab Higher Committee (formed in 1945) and the Arab League regarding the usefulness of testifying before UNSCOP, League members unanimously agreed on the injustice of partition for Palestinian Arabs. Despite Arabs and Jews having lived peacefully side by side, the determination in all Arab states to make Palestine an independent Arab state is strong.

Arab national fervor is an explosive force, so widespread that Arab government officials who realize the political implications of defying the United Nations resolution will face opposition to any decision to partition or risk losing their positions.

Religious pressures

Arab governments are likely to be significantly influenced by religious pressures as much as they are by nationalist pressures. Arabs possess religious zeal that, when coupled with political aspirations, constitutes a formidable force.

If jihad or holy war is declared, the Muslim Brotherhood will be the spearhead of any "holy campaign."

Tribal pressures

The tribes of Arab states are a potent element in the political and military fabric of the Middle East. The Bedouin population in Iraq, Syria, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia is estimated to be around 2.5 million.

Tribes in the Middle East have traditionally received substantial annual rewards from any authority seeking their support – whether British, French, or local Arab government. Since Arab governments are now the ones disbursing these rewards, they can rely on tribes within their territories.

It is undeniable that tribes will join the campaign (...) and the Syrian Defense Minister stated on October 9th that as Arabs head to Palestine, 'they will be accompanied by 100,000 Bedouins seeking to plunder, described as mine fodder.' In a dramatic meeting of 500 Kurdish and Arab sheikhs in Hilla, Iraq, in October, a decision was made to wage holy Jihad to defend Palestine.

In a dramatic meeting of 500 Kurdish and Arab sheikhs in Hilla, Iraq, in October, a decision was made to wage holy Jihad to defend Palestine.

Excerpt from CIA report on Palestine partition plan

While Prime Minister Saleh Jabr took the lead in organizing this meeting, the agreement of Arab and Kurdish leaders (some of whom harbored animosity towards each other) to come together and agree on a common program is significant.

Arab Governments' Potential Stances

Towards a Jewish State

Arabs vehemently oppose the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine, believing that Palestine is an integral part of the Arab world. Moreover, they fear that Jews will strengthen their position through unrestricted immigration and seek expansion that would constitute a threat to the independence recently acquired by other Arab states.

Towards the United Nations

Arab governments harbor bitterness towards the predominantly-issued report by the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP), feeling it wasn't reached impartially. However, Arab governments do hesitate to break away from the United Nations, acknowledging the indebtedness they owe to the organizations.

The United Nations facilitated a quick and satisfactory settlement between the French, British, and Levantine countries by raising the issue of foreign forces withdrawing from Syria and Lebanon. Egypt had an opportunity to express its views on the withdrawal of British forces from Egypt and its demands regarding Sudan. The United Nations provided young Arab states with a means for immediate recognition and participation in global affairs.

Towards the US and the UK

Since the Balfour Declaration, Arab political sentiments have been directed towards the British presence in Palestine. However, due to the United Kingdom's announced decision to end the mandate, withdraw its forces, and manage the situation in Palestine without forcibly imposing any settlement unacceptable to both Arabs and Jews, Britain's status in the Arab world has significantly improved.

On the other hand, the United States' status gradually declined with each new evidence of its support for Zionists. The goodwill sentiment the United States enjoyed after the Roosevelt-Ibn Saud Conference and its support for Lebanon's and Syria's independence didn't last long due to President Truman's support for Jewish immigration to Palestine and the Anglo-American Committee report.

Gradually, blame shifted from Britain to the United States over the situation in Palestine.

Arab countries seek to maintain friendly relations with the United States for a variety of reasons, including: the deep cultural ties between the United States and the Arab world, the friendly role the United States played in achieving the independence of Syria and Lebanon, some Arab states' partial reliance on oil revenues from American companies, and promises to increase these revenues in the future.

Potential Actions of Arab Governments

In Palestine

In the event of Palestine's partition, it is unlikely that Arab governments would openly declare war against the Jews. The pressure exerted by Arab populations for a clear declaration of war would be significant, though Arab governments certainly realize that taking a similar step would jeopardize Arab standing in the United Nations.

However, it is probable that significant numbers of Arabs from neighboring countries to those within Palestine would join the fight against Zionism. While Arab governments may not officially endorse this action, they are likely to allow it to continue.

A bulldozer tows an Israeli truck taking wounded soldiers to hospital during the Arab-Israeli War, June 1948.

Against Jews in Arab lands

Before the issuance of the Balfour Declaration in 1917, Jews in the Middle East enjoyed a status similar to other minorities worldwide.

However, since 1917, they have borne the brunt of Arab animosity towards the political development of Zionism in Palestine. In the event of partition, the lives of a million Jews throughout the Arab world (including Palestine) would be at risk.

Against the US and the UK

The Bloudan Conference of 1946 laid out the action plan that Arab states must follow if the recommendations of the Anglo-American Committee are implemented. There is unanimous agreement among Arab states regarding the objective.

They all adamantly oppose the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. Whether they are now in agreement on retaliatory measures against the United States is a secondary issue because US interests will be significantly affected over time, not necessarily due to the decisions of Arab governments, but because of the instability and hostility that will inevitably arise in the Arab world.

Goals of the Jewish State


Despite increasing tension and animosity among various groups within the Jewish community, it is expected that all Jewish groups in Palestine will unite to defend the newly formed Jewish state. The primary goals of the Jewish government will be to organize defense and increase immigration.

Regional ambitions

No Zionist in Palestine will be satisfied with the regional arrangements of the partition agreement in the long term. Even the most conservative Zionists will hope to gain full control of the Negev, the Western Galilee, and the city of Jerusalem, ultimately aiming for the entirety of Palestine.

External aid

The Zionists will continue to wage a strong propaganda campaign in the United States and Europe. They will exaggerate the "injustice" (quotations author's) of the proposed Jewish borders and demand more land as Jewish migration flows into the Jewish sector.

In the chaos that will ensue after the partition, atrocities will undoubtedly be committed by Arab extremists, gaining wide media coverage and even exaggeration by Jewish propaganda. Arabs will be accused of aggression regardless of the actual circumstances.

This propaganda campaign will undoubtedly continue to influence public opinion in the United States, potentially leading the US government to take actions that will complicate and exacerbate its relations with the entire Arab world.

David Ben Gurion (back to camera) is pictured congratulating Golda Meir on the UN partition of Palestine.

The Soviet Union's Position

The objectives of the Soviet Union in Palestine revolve around:

(1) Ending the British mandate and withdrawing British forces from the region

(2) Maintaining instability

(3) Actively participating in "maintaining order" (quotations author's) in the country.

The Soviet Union has achieved significant success in realizing the first two objectives without any effort on its part. Achieving the third objective would provide the Soviet Union with a base in the heart of the Middle East to spread propaganda, carry out sabotage activities, and attempt to organize "democratic movements" (quotations author's) in Arab countries.

The Soviet Union had been effectively assisting the Jews, albeit secretly. In the event of violence between Arabs and Jews, the Soviet Union will continue to support the Jews and may also attempt to assist the Arabs discreetly.

Impact on US Economic Interests in the Middle East

Oil Sector

If the partition in Palestine is to be implemented, it is unlikely that Arab governments will initially cancel existing oil privileges.

Such an action would have a dual effect of alienating the United States and cutting off future oil revenues. While current oil contracts might not be canceled, Arab governments may refuse to enter into any new oil agreements with the United States.


In the event of partition, trade relations between the United States and the Arab world would be significantly affected. Arab boycott, even if partial in its effectiveness, would lead to a slowdown in the slowly improving and steady trade relations between the United States and Arab countries.

Military Consequences

Arab Forces

The majority of Arab forces engaged in confronting the Zionists will consist of semi-trained guerrilla groups and less organized tribal factions.

There are three main sources Arabs can draw from to gather men for fighting in Palestine: (1) semi-military Arab organizations led by former army officers, which will form the core of the guerrilla fighters. (2) Soldiers from the official armies of Arab countries volunteering to participate in operations against the Jews. (3) Tribal men, possibly constituting the largest source.

The Zionists will continue to wage a strong propaganda campaign in the US and Europe. They will exaggerate the "injustice" of the proposed Jewish borders and demand more land.


Estimates suggest that the largest number of Arabs actively engaged in fighting against the Zionists at any given time will be between 100,000 and 200,000 fighters – including Palestinian Arabs, volunteers, Bedouins, and semi-military organizations from other Arab countries.

The armed strength of Arabs in Palestine itself is estimated to be about 33,000. Additionally, the Muslim Brotherhood will deploy formations from its Egyptian and Syrian branches, comprising 15,000 and 10,000 fighters, respectively.

Bedouin tribesmen are the largest Arab group of potential fighters, with approximately 30,000 of them in the immediate vicinity of Palestine.

The total ground forces of the Arab League countries (Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Jordan, and Yemen) amount to about 223,000 men, including gendarmerie, security, and police forces. Although the formal participation of Arab armies in combat is not anticipated, they will provide leadership to the fighters.


Arab governments are expected to clandestinely provide weapons, ammunition, and trained military leadership to the guerrillas.


For many leaders of this struggle, the main motivation will be opportunism, coupled with nationalist aspirations and religious fervor. Jihad declaration will also be used to attract volunteers.


Arab forces are expected to range from semi-military factions with a relative degree of organization and control to tribal organization of the less organized Bedouins under the leadership of their sheikhs.

Course of action

Arab action will be directed not only against the Jews but will also encompass confronting any police force attempting to maintain order in Palestine. Arabs are adept at street warfare, while few Jewish soldiers have gained experience in such tactics.

The Arab intelligence system has always been swift and accurate. The traditional "Grapes of Wrath" oral information transfer system can be supported by communications and some aerial reconnaissance operations. High ground positions will provide good observation sites.

Sources of support

The majority of support for the Arab cause will come from Arab League member states. Egypt will primarily bear the financial support responsibility for the Arab cause, with lesser contributions from oil-revenue-receiving countries, especially Saudi Arabia.

Over 700,000 Palestinians became refugees after the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, following a series of massacres. They fled to neighbouring countries like Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt.

Jewish Forces

Character and composition

While estimates indicate that Jewish and Arab forces will be roughly equal in number, the Arabs will have large reserves, whereas the Jews will lack reinforcements unless they can facilitate additional migration from Europe or enlist volunteers from the United States.

The Jews will be well-equipped. There is doubt, though, whether the quantity of ammunition available to them will be sufficient for a protracted campaign.

Jewish forces in Palestine consist of three organizations:

1. Haganah (the Zionist army)

2. Irgun Zvai Leumi (ETZEL)

3. The Stern Gang

The three groups differ in their tactics and the degree of severity used in their operations, with the Haganah being the most sensitive to international public opinion. While both ETZEL and the Stern Gang are two unlawful terrorist groups engaged in sabotage and assassination operations.

Estimates suggest that in case of hostilities, Haganah could mobilize around 200,000 men and women with some combat experience or logistical skills.

The strength of the ETZEL movement is estimated to range from 6,000 to 8,000 members. It is organized on a regional basis similar to the Haganah organization, using sabotage and terrorism as the "only effective means" (quotations author's).

The Stern Gang consists of 400 to 500 extremist militants. They do not hesitate to assassinate government officials and police officers or to obtain money through violent acts against Jews and others.

The founders of the Stern Gang were former members of ETZEL. The organization declared that it considers the orientation towards Soviet Russia necessary due to the current global situation.

Reports indicate that both the Soviet Union and the Stern Gang are interested in establishing a "strong and independent Palestine" that will serve as a fortress against British "imperialist schemes" but "will not be hostile" to the Soviet Union (quotations author's).

Course of action

In the face of an Arab attack, the three Jewish armed groups will be forced to unite. Members of ETZEL and the Stern Gang are likely to be absorbed into the Haganah. Initially, the Jews will achieve significant success against the Arabs due to superior organization and equipment, but they will not be able to endure the long attrition war that will develop.

A force of Israeli Palmach armoured cars in the Negev Desert, Arab-Israeli War, 1948.

European support for Jewish forces

There is already a well-organized system for transporting Jewish refugees from Eastern Europe southward – especially through the Balkans, to Palestine. In the event of an Arab-Jewish conflict, this system will be used to supply Jewish forces with fighters in Palestine.

There was some evidence that regional agents for ETZEL and the Stern Gang had been trained and assisted by the Soviet Union.

Available support in the United States

There is no information available to estimate the specific number of volunteers or the amount of money and supplies that will be provided to Jewish armed forces from sources in the United States.

The Zionist movement is very strong in the United States, but organizations claiming to represent all American Jews do not actually represent them in reality; and while many Zionist organizations support the goal of establishing a national homeland for the Jews, they do not advocate for an independent Jewish state in Palestine.


If the United Nations General Assembly accepts partition as the best solution to the Palestine problem, it is almost certain to result in armed violence in Palestine, with serious implications for social, economic, and political stability in the Arab world.

The commercial and strategic interests of the United States in the Middle East will be genuinely endangered.

The peoples of Arab states will inevitably be drawn into this conflict between Jews and Arabs in Palestine. While most Arab governments may hesitate to act against the United Nations General Assembly's decision and the wishes of major powers, nationalist, religious, and tribal pressures will force them to support the Palestinian Arabs unofficially.

It is likely that the influence of extremist chauvinistic groups will increase at the expense of politicians in the Arab world who believe that the development of their countries depends on maintaining close relationships with the United States and the United Kingdom.

Meanwhile, the war in Palestine will escalate unless there is armed international intervention. Initially, the advantage will be with Jewish forces. However, as Arab military efforts gradually coordinate, Jews will have to withdraw from isolated positions, and once dragged into a war of attrition, they will be gradually defeated.

Jews will not be able to resist for more than two years unless they receive significant external assistance in terms of manpower and military materials.

The United Nations, after making a recommendation for partition, will have to consider the serious threat to peace posed by this recommendation. In fact, this will compel them to take steps to impose partition, with major powers acting as implementing mechanisms.

There is no need to emphasize the dangerous prospects of such a development on relations between the United States and the Arab world, and between the United States and the Soviet Union.

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